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7 Observations from the Blazers’ 122-117 Win in Tampa

Buoyed by Robert Covington’s defense in the second half, the Trail Blazers extended their current winning streak to three games with a win over the Raptors.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Toronto Raptors Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

The Trail Blazers extended their winning streak to three games with a 122-117 victory of the Raptors on Sunday. Today’s game featured plenty of offense, but it was Portland’s defense in the third quarter that proved to be the difference. On the offensive end, CJ McCollum led the way with 23 points and Damian Lillard recorded a game-high 11 assists. For the Raptors, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam combined for 46 points.

If you are looking for our quarter-by-quarter breakdown please check out our instant recap. With that said, let’s get into the key points from this afternoon’s contest.

Little Resistance in the First Half

The Raptors have shot below 45 percent from the field in the 10 games entering today’s action. In the first half, Toronto absolutely torched the nets en route to a 74-point performance. From the field, the Raptors converted 52 percent of their shots and converted 45.5 percent of their three-pointers. If they even imagined an extra pass, an open look would materialize. Portland’s rotations were too late and they struggled to cut off lanes to the basket. If a slight hiccup occurred or a scramble unfolded, the Blazers were completely underprepared to recover. That led to a never-ending stream of open shots for the Raptors.

Perhaps the most concerning part was that the Blazers put up 68 points of their own in the first half. That means—more often than not—the Raptors were facing a defense that should have been set after a made basket.

The Defense Finally Arrives

I don’t know what was said at halftime or in that huddle, but the Blazers were a completely different team in the third quarter. Instead of conceding ground, Portland’s perimeter defenders funneled Toronto’s advances into contested looks and turnovers. In transition, the Blazers got to their assignments quickly—preventing the Raptors from exploiting late-to-switch cross matchups.

After consecutive quarters of 41 and 33 points, the Raptors registered just four field goals for 10 points in the third quarter. Thanks to their defensive performance, the Blazers emerged from the frame with a seven-point advantage.

RoCo Fulcrum

So much of what Robert Covington does gets lost in the margins. Tonight, his talent was on full display. Offensively, he was decisive in catch-and-shoot situations and he even beat Siakam off the dribble for a finish in the paint on one play in the first half. Defensively, it was Covington’s energetic style that triggered the Blazers’ stop-filled third quarter. I hope I never get tired of watching Covington let an opponent gain a half step on him just to have the ball strategically poked away. Seriously, outside of all things Lillard, Covington’s ball-hawking might be my favorite part of this season.

Covington connected on three of his eight attempts from distance against the Raptors—marking his fourth game in a row with at least three triples. Defensively, the former Rockets forward finished with four blocks and three steals.

DJ Bench Production

Norman Powell, who trudged through foul trouble through a large portion of today’s game, was limited to 27 minutes in the starting lineup. Derrick Jones Jr. filled that foul-induced void beautifully. He recorded 11 of his 16 points in the first half. Inside the arc, Jones punished the Raptors’ defense with meaningful cuts along the baseline. Surprisingly, Jones’ most memorable moments from Sunday’s victory came via his below-the-rim finishing ability.

Jones trailed only Carmelo Anthony with 21 minutes off the bench. Outside of his scoring, Jones finished with three rebounds and two blocks.

New Crunch-Time Five Takes Shape

The Blazers opted for athleticism instead of size with the game on the line. Portland rolled with a late-game lineup of Lillard, McCollum, Powell, Jones and Covington. What that frontcourt group lacks in size they make up for it in range. Thanks to their long strides, Powell and Jones are only two steps away from any opponent inside half-court defensive stands. Covington, while he lacks the vertical billing of a traditional center, is a master of positioning from the pivot spot. This was only the first game, but that five-man group could have the ingredients to be special in crunch time.

Decisive Nurkic

In his second game back from wrist injury, Jusuf Nurkic logged 19 minutes. During his time on the court, the big fella moved downhill and out of screen situations with purpose. Speaking of screens, it is clear that Nurkic is capable of creating space that his counterparts can only dream of. He went 4-of-7 from the field and 1-of-2 from distance for a nice even 10 points. In the paint, he snagged four rebounds and turned back one shot.

Familiar Faces

Former Blazers Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood combined for 19 points. Surprisingly, it was Hood that stole the show with 13 points.

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Box Score

The Blazers return to action on Wednesday against the Pistons.